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Tragedy close to home

A Cirrus SR22 and a Robinson R44 collided near Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Maryland, an accident witnessed by local pilots and ground observers just before 3:40 p.m. on Oct. 23 that left three people dead.

AOPA, based at this airport, joined the families of those involved and others affected by the tragedy in mourning the losses, and offered assistance to federal investigators and others involved.

“We’d like to extend our condolences to our friends at Advanced Helicopter Concepts, and to the families of all those involved in the accident,” the association wrote on social media.

Maryland State Police identified three people killed in the crash: Christopher D. Parsons, 29, of Westminster, Maryland; William Jenkins, 47, of Morrison, Colorado; and Brendan J. MacFawn, 35, of Cumberland, Maryland, all of whom were in the Robinson helicopter. The Cirrus was being flown by Scott Graeves, 55, of Brookeville, Maryland, with Gilbert Porter, 75, of Sandy Spring, Maryland on board, and deployed its airframe parachute after the collision.

“I’m very lucky to be alive,” Porter told The Washington Post. "What saved our lives was that parachute.” 

Porter told the newspaper that he suffered only minor cuts and bruises. Both Porter and Graeves, who were returning to Frederick from Tennessee, were treated at a local hospital and released, police said.

Police secured the accident scene prior to the arrival of FAA and NTSB investigators. The helicopter came to rest in a nearby self-storage facility, a few hundred feet from where the Cirrus came to rest in a copse of trees. There were no injuries reported on the ground.

Recordings captured by Live ATC indicate the inbound Cirrus established contact with the tower about three minutes before the collision, and was advised to report again three miles west of the airport, and plan a left downwind entry for Runway 30. Seconds before the collision, Graeves was advised to report midfield left downwind for Runway 30. “I have three helicopters below you in the traffic pattern,” the controller said.

Graeves acknowledged the instruction to report midfield, and acknowledged the traffic advisory. “I have two of them in sight.”

The controller responded almost instantly, now less than 10 seconds before the collision:

“Alright 2ES, I have you in sight, Runway 30, maintain your altitude until turning base, cleared to land.”

Graeves never got a chance to acknowledge that request. After the collision other aircraft in the vicinity reported that an airplane and helicopter were down.

While the investigation has only just begun, and there is much to learn about the details, AOPA directed social media readers to the various free courses, webinars, and publications by the Air Safety Institute available to all pilots seeking to refresh their knowledge of operations in the airport vicinity, and the need for strong situational awareness.

“Our thoughts continue to go out to the families of those involved in this tragedy,” said AOPA Senior Vice President of Communications Katie Pribyl.

Cirrus spokesman Bill King told The Washington Post that the company was sending an accident-response team to Frederick to work with federal investigators.

“We’ve got a fair amount of information already,” King told the newspaper. “In the final analysis, that doesn’t change what happened for several families today. A bunch of people’s lives changed dramatically today.”

Jim Moore
Jim Moore
Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Training and Safety, Accident, Helicopter

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